It is time to say good bye to ECS …..for now. A new year of seminary classes has already started. Fishing on a Saturday with J and the residents of Downtown Safe Haven have been replaced with courses on the prophets, church history, Anglicanism and ethics. Tuesday nights reflecting with G on what I had just experienced whilst helping with a DUI group have been replaced with reading and Thursday night shared meals and conversation at DTSH have been replaced with writing school papers.
On one hand so many things have changed. But the work of ECS’s ACCORD program continues. The residents of DTSH still continue to try and do the best they can in the world.
One thing for sure is that I have changed. My placement with ECS was much more than just a placement. It was never a case of simply racking up two hundred hours. I am reminded of the words of Proverbs
One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.
I truly am richer, enriched and watered. I am transformed. With so many good experiences it is on one hand hard to let go. But that very same struggle is made easier when I ask myself what should I do with the transformation that I have experienced?
Like a house built on rock and not on sand, I will use that transformation as a foundation from which to further build on. The passion in my heart for service beats stronger now than ever before.
I bow my head to God in prayer, and place my future in His hands. I know I will spend more time with ECS at some stage in the future, but for now, for a brief time, it’s time to let go.
Recently I returned back to ECS’s ACCORD program for two final weeks of sitting in and assisting with some of the DUI group sessions. Because of work and personal commitments there had been a five week gap between my previous visit and these last sessions. I had missed the program in those five weeks but the gap also allowed me to stand back and look at where some of the people in the program were in their journey. Jenny*, the councilor who ran the group is a natural at her job and is able to adapt to any group dynamic and draw out a learning experience from everyone in the class. She helps people at all stages of their journey and I have learnt so much from her.
Tonight was a night to check in people on a journey. Some of the group that I had come to know previously had completed their program and I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. Others, who were partially through their program, were now nearing the end of their time and of course there was a couple of new people who were just starting the program who I had never seen before. It was clear that some of the folk had been affected by their time at ACCORD. Getting a DUI is a big deal and their time in the program was well spent. For others the time in group sessions, educational classes and individual one-on-one meetings seemed less worthwhile. But that may be an unfair comment, because in reality I was, and am, just an observer or at best a fellow traveler.
Do you ever get a song into your head and can’t get rid of it? That happened to me on my way home that night. I was thinking back, all the way to my infant school, aged just five or six. At school we sang hymns every day in assembly. One of those songs came to mind…..
One more step along the world I go,
one more step along the world I go;
from the old things to the new
keep me traveling along with you:
And it’s from the old I travel to the new;
keep me traveling along with you.
Round the corner of the world I turn,
more and more about the world I learn;
all the new things that I see
you’ll be looking at along with me: Refrain
As I travel through the bad and good,
keep me traveling the way I should;
where I see no way to go
you’ll be telling me the way, I know: Refrain
Give me courage when the world is rough,
keep me loving though the world is tough;
leap and sing in all I do,
keep me traveling along with you: Refrain
You are older than the world can be,
you are younger than the life in me;
ever old and ever new,
keep me traveling along with you: Refrain
Words: Sydney Carter
Music: Southcote by Sydney Carter, arranged by Lionel Dakers
Words © 1971 by Stainer & Bell Ltd. (admin. by Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188).
How true those words are. Faith is a journey (of course there are times when we need to stop moving and be still to feel the presence of God and to let the Lord and Holy Spirit flow into our lives and our worship) that moves us from one place to another. Often we think about the start and the end of the journey but the hymn reminds us of the path along the way. Old, new, bad, good, learning, lost, guided, rough, tough, old, young and in the spirit of the refrain – never travelling alone, always in the company of our Lord.
Steps may be large or small, forwards and sometimes backwards, uphill, downhill. Sometimes we want to run at others we want to crawl.
Sometimes we may be forced on a journey like the participants attending an ECS ACCORD DUI program. At other times we are happy to move along.
Where is your journey today?
What is on the path ahead of you? what is next to you now?
Are you conscious that God is walking with you?
* All names changed
On a Tuesday night I spend time at ECS’s ACCORD program as part of my summer field placement at the School for Ministry. ACCORD provides court mandated programs that aim to reduce the incidence and prevalence of driving under the influence (DUI) and the negative impact of this behavior on our families, residents and community. I have had the privilege of sitting in on a number of group sessions and hopefully providing another input to the group to support the groups facilitator.
In some of the groups that I have sat in on the facilitator uses the gift of a marble as a right of passage for program members at their last session. After dealing with the administration of the day the person who is attending their last session is invited to tell their DUI story to the rest of the group. This serves as a reminder to the rest of the group of the wide variety of situations that lead to DUIs and gives the graduating member a chance to reflect on their journey and what they have learnt over their time in the program. After this the member is invited to pick a marble from a large jar of marbles that the group facilitator has. The chosen marble is then passed around to each of the other group members who each in turn are invited to say a word of encouragement to the graduating member. After everyone has held the marble and passed on their message, the graduating member is able to say a few words and then gets to keep the marble as a reminder of their time in the program.
In the last group that I sat in on I told the graduating member how I hoped that he would remember all of the lessons learnt during the program. It was clear that he had a firm resolve not to re-offend but the reality of the life meant that there would be times in the future that that firmness would be challenged. I also told him that I hoped that he would keep the marble close by to him at all times and so when that firmness not to re-offend was challenged, that he could squeeze the marble and fell its firmness. I hoped that that in turn would remind him of his resolve not to re-offend.
A marble may be a good reminder of support and lessons learnt for graduates of the DUI program. As Christians we have something even stronger to hold onto – Jesus. If if you are like me there are times that I sometimes forget to turn to Jesus when times get tough. When my day is going bad I can find myself moaning. when I feel weak I sometimes give in to temptation. If only I remembered always to turn to Jesus. He is my rock, he is always with me and he is my savior.
Sometimes in the complexity of life, or the intensity of seminary it is easy to loose sight of the basics.
Jesus is my rock and my savior.
He is the marble that keeps me strong in my faith.
Pure and simple as that!
Earlier this week I had lunch with a good friend who is also a fellow blogger (see his blog – Karl’s Questions here). After checking in with each other the topic of conversation turned to my summer field placement at ECS. Before long we got talking about our attitudes toward the homeless, people with mental illness and people with addictions. During my time at ECS, whether it be at the ACCORD DUI program or at the Downtown Safe Haven transitional housing facility, I have been spending time with people who are suffering from homelessness, mental illness and addictions. As I get to know folk at ECS I am learning more about their lives and as I do so it is much easier to see the person within rather than the presenting issue. The more time I spend the deeper each relationship grows and the more I see brothers and sisters in Christ who are struggling with life and their ability to cope.
I find myself challenging myself: when a homeless person or someone battling an illness wanders into the back of the church do I see a person or a cause? If I am being brutally honest, many a time in the past I have seen the issue/cause and not the full human being. If you ask yourself that same question and strip yourself down to full honesty how would you answer the question?
I believe that an important part of my calling is to fulfill a promise that we make whenever we reaffirm the Baptismal Covenant:
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
My field placement is teaching me that I can only fulfill this promise when I walk along side my neighbor and accept them for all that they are. This is the model that Jesus gave us when he called Zacchaeus down from the tree:
He (Jesus) entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” Luke 19:1-10.
Jesus did the unthinkable, he broke the rules in order to be inclusive to all, and to everyone who accepted his call he gives salvation. Jesus called the sinner by name and insisted to stay at his house.
I pray that I continue to learn to look beyond the issue, to see a human instead of a cause. Because an issue or cause is something that we ‘give to’ or ‘solve’. A fellow human is someone who we love and in our love, Christ is manifested.
Next time I am asked if I will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving my neighbor as myself. I hope I can say with conviction
I will with God’s help.
On Tuesday evenings I am spending time at ECS’s ACCORD DUI program. The program strives to reduce the incidence and prevalence of driving under the influence and the negative impact of this behavior on families, residents and the wider community. Last week I sat in two different discussion groups. There are so many different things I could write about but in this post I want to reflect on a comment that one of the staff made to me. At the end of the evening I was talking about my experiences that evening with a small group of the staff. I noted how the clients seemed to fall into three broad categories: those who accepted that their actions led to the DUI; those who accepted the seriousness of the DUI but did not accept, in part or fully, their own role in it (relying on excuses to explain away cause); and finally those who seemed to have not accepted the importance of the DUI itself. One of the staff reminded me that everyone in the program works at their own speed. Some will learn from the program faster, some slower, some will get it whilst they are in the program, some will get it after they have left and some will not get it at all. As I drove home I started to think how we come to expect instant results. Society teaches us to measure our success as a function of time. We live in a McDonald’s world where our expectation is immediate service and anything less is unacceptable.
After getting home I settled down to read some more of Blake Barrow’s book “Stories from the Shelter” (see my last post for more about this book). Chapter thirteen “John” is the story of a resident that came into Blake’s homeless mission, entered into their recovery program for alcoholism and settled into a new life and job at the mission. All was going well until Blake tried to push John a little harder and faster. John was not ready to move at Blake’s pace and ultimately broke his sobriety. In Blake’s own words
Just as I had tried to move John along at my pace instead of his, HUD’s one-step, housing first solution for the homelessness doesn’t fit everyone’s needs. For John, the shelter setting was healthier by far than having his own place…….He went home each day to isolation without any human interaction or supervision, and ten years of sobriety was destroyed in thirty days.
“Just as I had tried to move John along at my pace instead of his” again, even with the best intentions, we can feed the desire for the quick result. We can also see this sense of urgency in the Gospels as well
And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. (Matthew 4:19-21)
It would be easy to conclude that our God is a fully paid up member of the McDonald brigade. The sign of a good Christian/disciple is to instantly follow Jesus. I don’t think that that is the case though. The immediacy of action in Matthew’s calling of the disciples had more to do with demonstrating the awesomeness of Jesus that the disciples immediately felt. Of course it is not only calls to immediate action that we find in Holy Scripture we also find many reminders of patience.
The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
Many of our churches invite the congregation to share in the Holy meal with the words “wherever you are on your journey of faith you are welcome to participate at everything we do at the table”. My own reflections and prayers this week have been that we extend that same invitation to all that we do. God is patient. Whether it is activities in church, working with people attending ECS’s DUI program, walking along side one of our brothers or sisters struggling with homelessness, mental health illness, addiction or their recovery we need to move at God’s pace. And God’s pace will be unique for each and every situation and person. Sometimes we will get that pace right, sometimes we will move to fast and at others too slow.
The lesson of the week for me was to start to learn to read the road signs that God shows us in life so that we know what pace He wants us to go.